The Ramesside period extended from 1295 to 1069 B.C. In its first phase, which covers the 19th Dynasty more or less (1295-1186 B.C.), about 130 tombs of individuals had been decorated, among which 37%, at least, included a royal representation. Among these, 78% concern Amenhotep I and/or his mother, queen Ahmes-Nefertari, in only 22% of the cases did they represent another Pharaoh: Thutmosis I, Thutmosis III, Montuhotep-Nebhepetre, Sethy I, Ramesses II. These were all of the prestigious sovereigns who marked the history of the country of the 11th, 18th and 19th Dynasties.
[Note: A special artice has already been dedicated to , especially important at Deir el-Medineh, this won't be discussed here].
Apart from this period, only 76 tombs will be considered with the deceased's images making worship or libation to a deified king, and it is thus, in nearly all cases, about the reigning Pharaoh.
During the Ramesside period, the sovereign seems to have been perceived by the Egyptians as a mortal human being, but who acquired a divine role whilst exercising the eternal function of which he is the agent: royalty. His human person could disappear but his divine person, which he only acquires at the time of his rise on the throne at the same time as his titulature, continues on. It could be said that there was only one king in all the history of Egypt, the function being independent of its holder.
After his death, the king is not an ordinary deceased, his status becomes that of a god, at least the royal propaganda multiplies the signs of merger between both, for example by the use of insignias or crowns which the king shares with the divinities.
The physical contacts between the Pharaoh and his Theban subjects were infrequent since Ramesses II spent the main part of his time in Pi-Ramesses, his new capital in the Delta. He had to go to Thebes only for exceptional opportunities. In his place, the inhabitants saw his multiple representations, statues of all sizes, images engraved on the walls of the temples and chapels, which show him acting as a warrior, ritualistic, etc. Many scenes were essentially intended to exalt the royal power.
This is how in one tombs of the scribe of the Place Truth, of Ramose, TT7, is found the Pharaoh Ramesses II, who acting ritualistically, makes an encensement in front of the Theban triad (Amon-Mut-Khonsu), followed by the vizier Paser and Ramose.
But Ramesses II, following in it his father, Sethy I, it was not not enough for him to put himself forward, he also wanted to attach himself to the prestigious kings of whom he wants to appear as the legitimate heir. For this, besides the concise iconography, he called extensively on the cult of the deified ancestor kings, represented by their cult statues. These came with innumerable festivals, rituals and processions which gave rhythm to the year. Because nearly all festivals - as for example the Beautiful Festival of the Valley, the festival of Min - were organised, directly or indirectly, by the Pharaonic administration, which didn't fail to involve worship of the gods and royal worship.
All these representations imprint themselves progressively in the collective cultural memory as far as becoming an integral part of it. It then became natural to a certain number of people to integrate themselves in the decorative program of their burial.
The deceased kings whose worship is evoked on the walls of private tombs are those who have a Temple of Millions of years (improperly but conveniently called a funerary temple) on the west bank of Thebes.
The role of these institutions was very important and they already operated during the lifetime of the sovereign to whom they were dedicated. They were true economic centres and of redistribution, they used numerous staff and organised the festivals and processions in honour of their holy patron. It didn't however signify whether the individuals, priests or not, were pledged to a precise sovereign, since the same character could be part of the staff of temples dedicated to different Pharaohs: it is not necessary to look for piety in this organisation.
An example is found of it in the chapel of the tomb of Khonsu, TT31. Khonsu was for some time
"great priest of the funerary cult of Menkheperre" (Thutmosis III) and
"supervisor of the livestock of Menkheperure" (Thutmosis IV), which are both mentioned in his tomb. It didn't stop him at all from dedicating on another wall of the terminal niche, an offering of flowers to the statue of king Montuhotep-Nebhepetre (see ). Ameneminet,
"Divine Father of the funerary cult of Nebmaatre (Amenhotep III) " pays homage in his tomb, TT277, to his divine head, the Pharaoh and to his wife, queen Tiy.
According to the custom, even in force at the beginning of the Ramesside period, many owners who had performed some functions in a temple. reproduced these on the walls of their tombs, hoping thus, by the magic of the image and the text, to continue their office in the after-life. It was also possible that some wanted to also mark in their tomb the recognition which they felt for the king who had provided their terrestrial needs through the intermediary of his temple. They also hoped that he would know how to appear as efficient for them in the beyond as he had been here when they were alive.
The deceased Pharaoh is not venerated as a living being, but as cult statue of worship standing or seated on a cubic seat.
Dominique Valbelle (in an IFAO publication) underlines the importance of this cult of the statues:
"The royal statuary cults represent an important part of the monarchical ceremonies in all periods. They permit the association of the living sovereign, in his absence, and his deceased predecessors to the daily services and at the festivals of the divinities in the whole of the country and even in remote sanctuaries, situated in the surrounding deserts or abroad. They are also intended to reinforce the permanence of the Pharaonic power by uniting the effigies of his successive representatives".
This is how Khonsu (TT31) accompanies, in his virtue as high priest, a statue of Thutmosis III, transported in a procession in a barque.
This extensively manifested phenomenon proceeds the same frame of mind which produced the extraordinary red quartzite statue found in 1989 in a hiding place under the Luxor temple, which represents Amenhotep III on a sledge: it is therefore about a statue of the "deified" king (see ). As there is a possibility to believe that it had been created during the lifetime of the king, it can be imagined that he came to make offering to his own statue!
In some tombs can be found real royal lists, as in (the tomb dates from the second left of the Ramesside period, more precisely from the reign of Ramesses IV).
These lists always have the names removed of Pharaoh being the object of the power of condemnation of memory: thus, no traces are found of Hatshepsut or of a king of the Amarnian period. How did the private individuals know these prestigious ancestors? First of all by certain festivals, which permitted them to see a parade of the statuaries of these "official" predecessors, information which was added to those supplied by the iconography of temples and, for the inhabitants of Deir el-Medineh, by the decoration of the royal tomb.
Thus, even though he is not physically present, Pharaoh plays an important role in the life of his Theban subjects and places his mark in the collective cultural identity as far as becoming an integral part of it. To be employed in a temple, craftsman of the royal tomb, priest of the sovereign's funeral cult, to participate in the festivals of the community, it is to be involved in situations where the distinguished role of the royal function is omnipresent.
For Thebans, this situation maintained a feeling of continuity: either dead or living, it is always the same image, the statue of king, that is worshipped. It is also the only long-lasting representation of which the craftsman is going to decorate the tombs, it is therefore natural that he is inspired by it, showing also that it is the cult of the royal function that is important and not the one of the king himself (even though he endeavours to make believe the opposite), what is compliant to the fundamental Egyptian principle of opposition between the person and the function.
But time consumes everything, even the collective memory. So, to maintain and strengthen the influence of the monarchy, to develop the oracles which, putting in scene the famous Pharaoh statues, establish at the same time a means to increase royal prestige and to fight against forgetting and the decrease of the emotional responsibility conveyed by the cults.
Established in the 18th Dynasty, in the same group of ideas, was what would become a major event of the Theban life: the Beautiful Festival of the Valley. A statue of Amon crosses the Nile from Karnak and would visit all of the mortuary temples of the west bank, then to the chapels of the deceased. This visit of the temples transforms the festival into a remembrance of the royal ancestors, at least those whose power one wants to remember. It is also about, for the first Ramessides, to legitimising their relatively recent accession in the throne (between the death of Horemheb and the enthronement of Ramesses II, only about fifteen years) by being connected with indisputable illustrious ancestors.
The collective memory is also set in the concrete: a royal cult languishes then stops when the temple of millions of years, to which it leaned economically, declined then disappeared. This sequence of disappearance of the temple then the worship seems, for example, established in the case of the cult of Ahmes-Nefertari, whose decline was parallel to the abandonment then to the destruction of her foundation, the Men-Set: the last certain trace which one has of this cult nevertheless so popular in the beginning of the Ramesside peiod is located under Ramesses X.
The representation in the tombs of private individuals of the king in company of the Hathor cow constitutes an additional proof of the importance of the active cult worship in the collective memory: Hathor, in particular under her shape of a cow, benefits, in the Ramesside period, of a very active cult in Deir el-Bahari, a fact which the craftsmen decorators could not ignore; perhaps the same men were actively involved in this cult.
To associate the representations of the Hathor cow and the king would have been made naturally, by connection between the two cults, royal and divine, both playing a role in the life of the inhabitants of Thebes. So Ameneminet, who has already been seen in front of Amenhotep III, also pays homage to Pharaoh Nebheptre (Montuhotep II) and to queen Ahmes-Nefertari who are held in front of the mountain of west from which emerges the Hathor cow.
One can wonder why more royal representations are not found in the tombs of individuals at this period. The answer is surely not unambiguous. It is probable that the owner of tomb whose functions didn't have a relationship with royal worship, and which did not depend economically on a temple of million years, felt less concerned. Maybe he also questioned a sovereign's will to which nothing special had connected him to serve him as an intercessor with the gods?
During the 20th Dynasty, the progressive decline of royalty, which became more pronounced after Ramesses III, certainly played a large part in the rarefaction of the royal representations: what effectiveness to wait in the beyond of a royal institution which now had so little influence on daily life and whose funerary temples became progressively neglected?